A chilling affair of suitably haunting plot and character work from Nicole Kidman. A supernatural drama and horror that plays on the worrying fears of the mind more than shocking the audience and thus manages to induce a higher level of suspense because of its psychological thread.
The film’s plot finds a mother and her two children in a remote house when three people arrive quickly taking on the vacant servant jobs. The daughter keeps seeing others in the house and it’s not long before Grace (Nicole Kidman) believes her finally and comes to think the house is haunted. It’s clear to say there’s more in this story than that and twists reveal themselves in the final act or so but in case you haven’t seen it yet I will not be spoiling anything.
The style is very atmospheric, firstly with edits creating a wafting dreamlike sense of time. The fades between numerous shots make it feel slow and calm, a more passive resemblance of nice dreams. Secondly there is the house itself which adds a huge boost of atmosphere, a cold and unnerving feeling of dread more than anything else as the thick fog of the outside gardens becomes a significant kind of metaphor to the things unseen in the house. The story of course is very engaging and holds a vast amount of atmosphere as it builds up nicely, there’s little jumpy moments but the turn of events is saved for the finale and the plot racks up slowly but surely the whole time making you know something is coming.
The director, Alejandro Amenabar also wrote this screenplay and it was nominated for a BAFTA, a true testament to its disturbing ghost story quality. It’s rare that a horror gets recognised for awards but this one deserves that attention as it’s stylised and acted brilliantly by all parties and Kidman plays the complex mother figure really well. This movie was also a recipient of the Goya (Spanish National Awards ceremony) for Best Film, the first English spoken film to do so, another feat for this early 2000 movie and once again it proves this is no ordinary horror. There’s substance to this piece and unlike the churning mill of normal horror fodder that revels in blood and gore, this is more spooky and story driven.
Kidman plays an intriguing and topsy turvy character where you find yourself liking her then disliking her. Though it’s nice to see a leading female character not lose herself completely to panic and she uses the character of the strong lone mum to try and showcase her attempts to appear in control. There’s no maddening rise of hysteria as she tries to act normally as possible in this house descending into such madness. A sort of pre-allusion to the normal life she’s trying to maintain that makes the end more interesting. It’s very intense and you can’t help but be on her side by the time the movie gets past the halfway point and her wide eyes as she starts to question her faith and the possibility her daughter isn’t lying draw you in. She breaks down greatly also when starting to accept there could be ‘intruders’ and that’s when the dynamics change and other more suspect acts of mystery are unveiled. The two children are suitably creepy as most children in horror films tend to be. The nanny and old housekeeper (Fionnula Flanagan) is brilliant too, her role is layered and dark yet light in places and you never know where you stand with her either.
‘The Others’ is a very old fashioned feeling film with its story setting up the need for closed doors and no electric, the creepy woods and fog, the piano, the drawings and photos are all classic horror ideas and make this feel even more chilling because it possesses a deeper sense of past. It’s a film that takes pleasure in knowing the payoff is at the end and likes to set up skilled moments of tension up to that point. The scene in the music room with Kidman investigating is one of those key moments where you feel your heart in your mouth. The camera sweeps racing through as all the curtains are opened to try and find the ‘intruders’ manages to pulse some energy into the film and the near ending where the children try to escape and find some extra goodies in the gardens is the small bump of “woah, what’s going on here” before the real large increase in all out WTF!
It does feel perhaps too slow in places and on reflection you could digest that the film is a lull a lot more than a peak but I guess that’s part of this ghost story genre and it works for me. Also before the twist you start processing in your mind what could be going on and at some point you’re likely to land on the answer even if you pass on it before the end.
All in all, this is a movie that tackles horror with a more spooky atmospheric touch and it looks both gorgeous and nightmarish. The acting is excellent and keeps the tension of the drama ticking along, while this tale of the intruding dead focuses on the strength of character and writing more than visceral shock and endless effects.